Keeping the spirit of the railroad alive

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Local artist Alice Barr, in addition to five other members of the Ochoco Valley Railroad, are working hard to get the local train display ready for fair

by: RAMONA MCCALLISTER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Alice Barr stands with brush in hand next to one of her recently completed backgrounds at the Ochoco Valley Railroad building. The building is located at the Crook County Fairgrounds, next to the Carey Foster Hall.

With the unique history of Prineville’s railroad and its municipal operation, there are a handful of avid train enthusiasts who have kept the local and state railroad history alive.
   This small group meets every Sunday afternoon to work on a massive train display that represents the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway (SP and S) in 1965, when the logging industry in Oregon was in full swing. The local display demonstrates this railway as it was in Central Oregon during this frame of time, including the associated freight depots.
   The SP and S Railway has a rich and long history, but in times past was often referred to as “the Northwest’s own railroad.”
   The group, known as the Ochoco Valley Railroad club, was initially the brainchild of the manager, Brad Peterson.
   “I have had a passion for trains since I was a kid,” said Peterson.
   The club now consists of members Bill Purinton, Jim VanVoorhes, Bill Kindley, Dave Toupal, and Brad eterson. The club currently meets in a building across from the Carey Foster Hall at the Crook County Fairgrounds.
   Most recently, the Ochoco Valley Railroad club also recruited an artist-in-residence, Alice Barr. The club was looking for an artist to paint the backdrops behind the train displays, and she volunteered to paint the murals with her own time and supplies.
   Barr commented that she is an interior design artist, and has never painted a mural-especially scenery and background paintings.
   “It was a huge leap in skill and confidence,” said Barr. “It was totally out of my normal range.”
   She added that once she got past the first wall, it was easier to move on and gain confidence. The job was not without some challenges, however.
   She explained that the biggest challenge was trying to reach the walls that were above some of the props, where she couldn’t lean or put weight and had to find ways to reach over them and still paint.
   She shared one experience when she had to use a “Swiffer” sponge mop to paint clouds. While she stood on a stool, her husband held onto her belt so she wouldn’t put her weight on the model trains and platforms.
   Barr also showed off some of her creative tools to get to the corners of the walls and hard-to-reach places. She had two brushes that she had put together so she could get to some of these crevices.
   Altogether, Barr painted more than seven walls, complete with mountains, sky, and roads. It took more than four months to complete the task.
   Before any of these recent developments, the Ochoco Valley Railroad club had its humble beginnings in 1994. According to club member VanVoorhes, it was first located in the back of a store owned and operated by Pat Ventz, where The Roundup now resides. The club has changed venus several times, and found its current building quite by chance.
   Five years ago, when the Pine Theater began its latest remodel, the group had their trains set up in the area where the current exit to the theater is.
   “We were in there for a couple of years,” said VanVoorhes.
   They needed to find another home, and the fairgrounds had some buildings that were going to be torn down. They worked out an agreement with the fair board, and in return for remodeling and using one of the buildings, they agreed to offer a display to the public during the fair. It has evolved from there, and the display now takes up the entire 900-square-foot building.
   The train display is built on an “HO” scale, which is a scale of one to 87. Peterson said that member Bill Kindley built the various model depots, which represent Metolius, Redmond, Terrebonne, Bend, Madras, and of course, Prineville — all as they were in 1965.
   “All towns have the right depots for that town,” said Peterson.
   The other portions of the display include detailed replicas of the electric trains, tracks, buildings, trees, and boulders. It also includes several bridges, including Willow Creek Canyon, and Crooked River Gorge.
   Peterson said that the display is a big hit during the fair, with as many as 1,500 to 2,200 visitors. He said that the children especially enjoy the display, and throughout the entire year, many teachers bring in their classes for mini field trips as well.
   Currently, the Ochoco Valley Railroad club is finishing up the Prineville depot, and this part of the display will include seven sawmills – before the decline of the timber industry.
   The display will be open during fair, and the club members encourage the public to come and see the new updates and the murals of Alice Barr.
   “Just look for the railroad crossing sign and the flashing lights on the front of the building,” said VanVoorhes.
   The Ochoco Valley Railroad building can be found during the fair in the old sheep barn, next to the Carey Foster Hall.
   Sponsors include Harry and Dorothy Clegg, Chet Peterson Insurance, and Prineville Signs and Banners.